The World Bank is unhappy about the slow pace of growth in Sierra Leone’s telecommunications sector and wants it opened to more outside players.
The bank has been locked in a dispute with the Sierra Leone government, which has been accused of reneging on a 2011 agreement to liberalize its telecommunication sector.
The World Bank’s new Country Manager in Sierra, Mr. Pamindar Brer, was quoted Monday lamenting that despite huge investment and the shift from satellite to fiber optic, the cost of both voice and data was still high.
Level playing field
“We are insisting that more players be brought in and a more level playing field be created, regardless of the financial standing of the company vying for a share in the gateway,” said Mr. Brer.
Sierra Leone is one of 23 countries connected to the 17,000 km-long fiber optic cable, which runs from France to South Africa.
The $700m African Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable marks the first fiber optic connection for seven countries, including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia.
The World Bank funded the West African leg of the initiative through its West Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Project, as part of a 2011 agreement that would have seen the country fully liberalize its international telecommunications gateway in 2012.
But Sierra Leone only liberalized the gateway this year, but still not to the satisfaction of the World Bank.
Earlier this year, the World Bank suspended its funding to the West African country over a disagreement with privately run operators.
Sierra Leonean officials have raised concerns over constraint in manning the gateway if handled by multiple players.
That, according to sources, was part of the agenda for upcoming discussions between the World Bank and the government.
“The government knows that the Bank’s position about multiple gateways is non-negotiable, and the Government of Sierra Leone has given its commitment that this will be so,” said Mr. Brer.
He said if Ghana and other African countries had implemented multiple gateways and internet was cheap in such countries, the same thing could happen in Sierra Leone.